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Big South Fork 

About Big South Fork

Located at Kentucky/Tennessee borders near I-75, Stearns is the gateway to the natural wonders of the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. Once heavily worked for its abundant natural resources, the Big South Fork's fantastic natural geological formations are again blanketed by lush vegetation. This vast wilderness stretching into Tennessee for a total of 113,000 acres is an outdoor lover's paradise, with a variety of recreational opportunities.

The terrain is the rugged, mountainous forestland of the Cumberland Plateau. It is bisected by a deep gorge carved by the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River (Class I-IV). The Big South Fork River is rated one of the 10 best whitewater rivers in the U.S. Some rapids, such as Angel Falls and Devils Jump, should always be portaged.

There are 150 miles of marked hiking trails in the Big South Fork. Numerous overlooks offer breathtaking views of the rocky gorge and cascading river. Backcountry Permits are required for anyone camping in the backcountry. If you have questions about backcountry permits, call 423-569-9778.. Trail information and maps are available at the visitor center at Bandy Creek. Park Headquarters - (423) 569-9778

The Big South Fork is located on the Kentucky/Tennessee boarder in the Daniel Boone National Forest. It can be accessed from interstate 75 at several locations. The area is most easily reached by car. 

view from angel falls overlook down to Big South fork river

Honey Creek

The Honey Creek area is in the south part of the Big South Fork. Take TN 27 South of Oneida to Mountain View Road. There is a bridge that crosses the New River. Turn right about 0.5 miles after the bridge on Mountain View Road, Follow the signs to Burnt Mill Bridge. Continue through the towns of Mountain View and Black Creek. The road meets comes to a 4 way stop at the crossroads of Mountain View and Mt. Helen Road. A sign indicates Burnt Mill Bridge to the right. Turn right. The road forks in 0.5 miles. Continue left. Cross the Burnt Mill Bridge Follow the gravel road 3.0 miles to the Honey Creek Trail head parking area.

If you are camping, continue 0.8 miles to the Honey Creek Overlook parking area. There is a bush wacked trail leading from the second parking spot into the woods where some flat camping areas can be found. This area can be very dangerous at night. Please use extreme caution if arriving after dark.

Honey Creek has some of the most difficult hiking in the area. Honey Creek Loop is 5.6 miles. Areas of the loop have boulders to climb, narrow tunnels to go through and ladders covered in wire mesh to descend. I don't recommend packing this trail. It does make an excellent day hike. There are lots of shear bluffs, rock houses and waterfalls to see. This is some of the most beautiful terrain in the Big South Fork area.

Leatherwood Ford

To reach the Leatherwood Ford area take TN 27 to TN 297 near Oneida, Tennessee. Follow TN 297 to the Leatherwood Ford Road. Turn left, continue on Leatherwood Ford Road about 6 miles to the Leatherwood Ford parking area. The parking area is the starting place for trail heads to Angel Falls Overlook, Grand Gap Loop, Leatherwood Loop and O & W Bridge.

There is no camping at the Leatherwood Ford parking area, but a15 minute hike across the river and down Falls Branch trail leads to some nice camping areas along the river. Those arriving after dark should camp at Bandy Creek campground.

Blue Heron Area

The Blue Heron area, nine miles west of Stearns, has overlooks of the Devils Jump. It is also the site of the fascinating Blue Heron Mining Community, the coal mining town that flourished here in the 1930s and '40s. The original Mine 18 coal tipple is the focal point of interpretive displays at 14 "ghost" structures. Paths lead through the community, where you can hear the actual voices of housewives, shopkeepers and others discuss their lives at Blue Heron (free, daily 10:30-5:00 EST, KY-742, 606/376-5073, visitor center handicapped accessible ). The 6.5-mile Blue Heron Loop Trail offers several scenic overlooks. The nearby Blue Heron Campground has 50 improved sites.

Divided Road Area

The Divided Road area includes trail heads to Middle Creek Loop, Slave Falls Loop, Twin Arches and Charit Creek Lodge. The Divided Road area is in the western part of Big South Fork and boarders the Pickett State Rustic Park and Forest. This area includes several water fall and a few natural arches. To reach the Divided Road area, follow TN 297 west from Oneida, turn left on Leatherwood Ford Road and pass through Bandy Creek Campground. At the TN 54 junction, turn right. Continue north toward Pickett State Rustic Park and Forest for about 2.0 miles. Turn right at Divided Road.

Yahoo Falls

North of Blue Heron off KY-700 is Yahoo Falls, a beautiful waterfall dropping 113 feet into a crystal-clear plunge pool, surrounded by rhododendron, hemlock, ferns and a myriad of wildflowers. The 257-mile Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail enters the Big South Fork near Yahoo Falls, following the river for eight miles before returning to the Daniel Boone National Forest.


A great reference book for Big South Fork is "Hiking the Big South Fork, Second Ed by Brenda D. Coleman and Jo Anna Smith. It has excellent trail descriptions and information about the Big South Fork.

Kentucky/Tenn Contacts

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Park Headquarters
4564 Leatherwood Road
Oneida, Tennessee 37841
Park Headquarters - (423) 569-9778 

Visitor Center - Tennessee - (931) 879-3625 

Visitor Center - Kentucky - (606) 376-5073 

Getting There 

Southbound on I-75 take KY 461 south to KY 80, take 80 west to U.S. 27, take 27 south to Oneida and follow TN 297 west into the park.

From I-75 northbound, take TN 63 west to U.S. 27, take 27 north to Oneida and follow TN 297 west into the park.

From I-40 westbound, exit at U.S. 27, travel north to Oneida and follow TN 297 west into the park.

From I-40 eastbound, exit at U.S 127 and travel north to TN 154, take 154 north to TN 297 and follow take 297 east into the park.